Adam, my grandson, and I sit at a table in a Japanese restaurant. It is a low table with benches. There is a dug out area for our feet, a variation on the traditional low Japanese table. Adam loves this table. He walks along the bench. We have come here after visiting a small science center on the New Hampshire seacoast where we walked through exhibits, learned about a Tofu, a two year old whale, who’d been killed in a shipping lane outside of Boston Harbor, completed a scavenger hunt, searching for a lion fish in a tank, a barnacle in the tide pool tank, a stuffed osprey displayed high above a doorway. Adam won his whale sticker which he wears, proudly, on his shirt.
Outside the science center, he climbed rocks at the edge of the sea, watched the ocean, watched gulls. Together, we examined rocks, Adam identifying quartz and sandstone. He is a child who cannot be rushed. He studies his world. He’s an avid learner, an avid reader. Now, he is hungry, and he’s tired. He’s, also, a child who feels intensely. His needs are sharp and immediate. It’s late. He’s starving. We spent a long, long time at the science center. Not that I wasn’t aware of time. I was, but I didn’t want to rush. I wanted to let Adam and time play out. Now, I wonder if I should have been more diligent.
Adam glances toward the sushi bar. He looks out the large plate glass window. The day is bright with a hint of coolness in the air. It is nearly September. Soon Adam will enter the first grade. He’s young, not quite six.
“So, Adam,” I say, “are you looking forward to going back to school?”
Adam is slightly built. He has blond hair and penetrating blue eyes. He lowers his gaze, shakes his head. “Not really.”
I’m surprised. “Why not?”
“I want to stay at Grammy’s house with my cousin.”
Often, I take each grandchild on an individual outing. This is Adam’s turn. When we return, the children will swim in the pool. They’ll play games, indoors, outdoors. Both are only children, and each loves having a constant companion. “But your cousin has to go back to school, too,” I say.
Gaze still lowered, body swaying, voice dreamy, Adam speaks. “We could learn at Grammy’s.”
“How would you learn at Grammy’s?”
“We could learn about the sky and rocks.”
I’m interested. I want more. “How would you learn about the sky and rocks?”
“We could have people come tell us.”
Ah, visiting lecturers. Experts in their fields. Perfect. What else did he have in mind? “What about the other children? How would they learn?”
“They could be in other places.”
“You mean along the shoreline?”
He lifts his gaze, tilts his head, then nods, and I am visualizing the coast of Maine, the rocky beaches, inlets, coves, table-top cliffs, all swarming with children and their teachers who are geologists, climatologists, biologists, writers, musicians, painters. I am a life long teacher, but I’ve never been fooled by the systems in which I’ve taught. I’ve been critical of bureaucracy, incompetence, mediocrity. When I taught middle school in rural New Hampshire, I’d begin each year, writing a quotation atrributed to Mark Twain on the blackboard. “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” I’d turn and face the class. “What does that mean?"
At first, my students were puzzled. Then, they explored. We talked about education, where to find it, how to find it, in books in the library, in movies, in music, in rivers, in streams, and in each other. And if Adam had been there, he would have invited them all to Grammy’s house to study the sea, the sky and the rocks.